Baseball Season Ends With a Bang

Posted: September 29, 2011 by Kodi in MLB

Seriously how the hell did the Braves and Red Sox not make the Playoffs?

Is there any better drama than a bottom of the 9th comeback?

Who is to blame?

Coming into Sept. 28 there were four baseball teams fighting for two playoff spots. The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals were battling for the NL Wild Card and the Red Sox were fighting off the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL Wild Card. Both Wild Card races were tied going into Wednesday night and if that scenario stayed the same these teams would face off in a single game elimination win and you’re in.

If we go back to Aug. 25 the Atlanta Braves were 10.5 games ahead of St. Louis in the Wild Card race. The Cardinals were only able to cut that lead down to 8.5 games coming into Sept. 6. The Braves did everything they could to squander their lead going 9-18 in the final month of the season. As a team the Braves hit just 22 HRs in the month of Sept. and knocked in 83 RBIs. The previous 5 months they averaged 30+ HRs, 105 RBIS but it wasn’t just their offensive production that let them down.

The Braves posted a team ERA of 4.17, struck out 213, walked 94, had a WHIP of 1.375 during their 9-18 September. There Starters and Relievers were equally to blame having their worst statistical month of the year. The biggest disappointment came from 38 year old SP Derek Lowe who started 5 games for the Braves in the month of Sept. In those five games he pitched 23.2 innings allowed, 38 hits, 25 runs, 23 earned, struck out just 17, walked 9, gave up 3 HRs while posting a 8.75 ERA and allowing his opponents to hit .373/.412/.569 (BA/OBP/SLG).

I don’t know if Atlanta thought that they could back into the Playoffs as they did in 1982 when they lost 19 of 21 games in July and August and still made it in. It could be that the Braves rotation was blistered by injuries all year long, or that their young bullpen couldn’t handle the length of an MLB season or that their offense hid in the closet like a gay man in an Arab nation. It doesn’t really matter though because what’s done is done and the Braves fans are reminded of a pain only equal to their 1996 collapse against the New York Yankees in the World Series.

The Braves had a chance to at least get the chance to face-off against the Cardinals in a one game Playoff but a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to the Phillies in 13 innings dissolved any such opportunity. The Cardinals were playing the Houston Astros and cruised to an 8-0 win with Chris Carpenter on the mound. Carpenter allowed just two hits and struck out 11 in his 15th career Complete Game Shutout. That win capped off a run for the Cardinals in which they won 23 of their final 31 games and clinched the final Playoff spot.

Luckily for Braves fans their 8.5 game collapse in September will not go down as the worst in MLB history because the Boston Red Sox gave up a bigger lead. After Sept. 3 the Red Sox led the Tampa Bay Rays by 9 games and looked like they would cruise into the Playoffs. Although a 7-19 Sept. and a crushing 4-3 walk-off loss to the Baltimore Orioles had Boston and its fans watching the final moments of the Yankees/Rays game.

I don’t think there was a single Boston fan that was worried about their clubs chance of making the Playoffs when the tarps were called out to cover the Camden infield. At the time the Yankees had a 7-0 lead against the Rays and Boston was up 3-2 in the bottom of the 7th against the Orioles. The hour and a half rain delay gave Boston fans a chance to watch an epic comeback by Tampa.

Evan Longoria crushed a 3 run HR in the 8th to cap off a 6 run inning and cutting the Yankees lead to just a single score going into the 9th. It seemed like the Wild Card birth was in the bag and that the Yankees would call out the MLBs all-time Saves leader to secure a Yankees win and at the least a one game Playoff scenario for Boston.

The rain delay eventually ended and the Red Sox were able to get back on the field. The delay could have been extremely detrimental to Boston’s chances at winning the game, especially if Alfredo Aceves first pitch was any indication. Aceves plucked Mark Reynolds in the ribs and the game was on. Boston was able to get into the 9th securing a 3-2 lead for their Closer Jonathan Papelbon.

So we have a scenario in the 9th inning of both the Rays and Red Sox game where the home team is down to its final out with a Wild Card berth on the line. One home team was fighting for their own chances while another was fighting for the chance to spoil another’s.

Sadly for Boston Mariano Rivera was not called out to finish off the Rays but they already had two outs and were facing the pinch hitting Dan Johnson. Johnson had hit just .108 coming into his at bat in the bottom of the 9th with two outs. Johnson was actually down to his final strike before he slapped a HR over the right field fence to tie the game and send it to extra innings.

Boston had a similar scenario but they weren’t batting for their existence, rather they had put the ball in Closer Jonathan Papelbon’s hands to Save the game. Papelbon had struck out the first two batters and it looked like Boston had this game in the bag but Chris Davis came up with a double and it was a whole new ballgame. Nolan Reimold followed Davis’ double up with one of his own and he had knocked in pinch runner Kyle Hudson to tie the game. Robert Andino came up to the plate with a chance to be the hero and he came through, knocking a ball to left field where a sliding Carl Crawford just couldn’t come up with the ball.

Any casual baseball fan would have looked at the game’s match-ups and come to the likely assumption that the Red Sox would beat the Orioles and the Rays would lose to the Yankees. The Orioles finished the year 69-93 but in the last few meetings of the year against Boston they were 5-2. Boston and Red Sox nation had just watched their squad piss away the biggest Wild Card lead in MLB history. They had just enough time after seeing Andino’s walk-off hit to find the Rays/Yankees game on TV and actually cheer for the Red Sox.

The game was entering the bottom of the 11th just minutes after Boston had lost and the Yankees were on to their 11th pitcher of the game. That pitcher was Scott Proctor, after pulling many of their regulars out and holding others out of the game. Proctor gave up a HR to Rays 3B Evan Longoria, his 2nd of the game, and Tampa Bay had secured their Wild Card berth just 4 minutes after Boston had lost.

The Red Sox and Braves did everything they could to lose the chance to play in October and luckily for baseball fans their Wild Card races ended with a bang. Tampa is going on to face the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series, while the St. Louis Cardinals will face the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series. The  other two Playoff match-ups are the Arizona Diamondbacks against the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL and the Detroit Tigers against the New York Yankees in the AL. As a baseball fan who’s favorite team is on the outside looking in, I can only hope that these final two games have set the standard for the rest of October baseball.

 

 

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